So it’s usual to clear one’s throat before speaking of disgraced General’s fall by calling the whole sorry mess “tragic.” As long as we remember that the essential element for tragedy, as classically defined, is a great man’s character flaw that leads to disaster, I guess that’s appropriate.  

There are several dimensions of the Petraeus story: the general’s betrayal of family and country—all the sadder as Petraeus is a truly consequential figure; how his personal failings play into any attempt to understand Benghazi; and what, now that other high-ranking officers have joined Petraeus in shame, the moral condition of the American military.  

Colonel Ralph Peters, recognizing that “the human heart is the ultimate IED,” nevertheless has a gimlet-eyed analysis of what brought down Petraeus:

As for Petraeus, he who rises by the headline, falls by the headline. His shabby indiscretion made national news not only because of his super-sensitive post as CIA director, but because he’d worked to make himself a media phenomenon. Ultimately, his cultivation of the press was far more successful than his failed (but celebrated) counterinsurgency doctrine.

For his fellow officers, Petraeus’ love of the spotlight was an annoyance, but not a transgression. Even his tawdry “under the desk” sex with a squirrely hustler on the make (a “writer” who had to have “her” book ghost-written) also might have been written off as an all-too-human mistake (let he who is without sin. . .). What killed Petraeus was his dazzling hypocrisy.

The general held himself up as a paragon of self-discipline and model family man. In Iraq and then Afghanistan, he rigorously enforced “General Order No. 1,” which prohibits our troops from fraternization, all sex, alcohol consumption, the possession of pornography and, generally, from any activity that might make the boredom and terror of this kind of war more bearable. When our troops screwed up, they got hammered.

Generals can take a weekend in Paris and get drunk (as Gen. Stanley McChrystal did), but the grunt who goofs in a firefight faces a court-martial.

Now those who’ve tied their military or literary careers to Petraeus and his inept counterinsurgency doctrine are rushing to make excuses for the general: He’s too important to be sacrificed like this, the president shouldn’t have accepted his resignation (resignation my butt — the guy was fired), and the affair only started after he left the military . . .

I actually would argue that it’s not the hypocrisy—it’s the adultery. Naomi Decter makes an appealing plea (“Enough Already about Military Groupies”) for a return to the “days when people, including generals and other public officials, were allowed to conduct their indiscretions discreetly.” Something to be said for this, but in the Petraeus case, we see the counter argument: Petraeus is in a position to know if the Obama administration has told the truth about the Benghazi attacks. Did his sexual dalliance make him open to pressure from the administration when he testified on Capitol Hill earlier about Benghazi? He is set to testify again and Peters says that this is his chance for a redemption of sorts.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz cautions against losing sight of Benghazi in the gossip:

[F]ascination with the general’s personal story must not divert attention from the very significant policy failures that helped produce a chaotic security situation in Libya. Petraeus was not principally responsible for those mistakes, nor for similar mistakes that continue in Syria, nor for the misleading suggestion that killing Bin Laden had dealt a fatal blow to Al Qaeda.

Congress should stay focused on the policy mistakes leading up to the Benghazi attack, the question of the commander-in-chief’s role the night of the attack, and the misleading claims afterwards that this terrorist attack was a response to an anti-Muslim video.

Wolfowitz supplies a list of questions, which are so very different from the softballs from a besotted press at yesterday’s press conference. I would add one more: What is the chronology of how you spent the night of September 11, 2012, Mr. President? We need to know who was in charge of this fiasco. Did the president delegate? We got a picture of the president watching the attack on Bin Laden’s compound. Surely there is a photo of the president and his advisers on the night of September 11?

With the possible implication of General George Allen in the sexual scandal surrounding Petraeus, the always funny Ace of Spades quips that this “isn’t a triangle—it’s a Pentagon.” But it’s not just sex: former head of U.S. Africa command General William “Kip” Ward stands accused of spending thousands of military dollars to support a lavish lifestyle. Punishment: he has been stripped of a star and required to reimburse the government $82,000.

But he can afford it:

Retiring as a three-star will cost Ward about $30,000 a year in retirement pay — giving him close to $208,802 a year rather than the $236,650 he would get as a four-star

Fortunately, all is not lost. At a gathering to mark the publication of ABC correspondent Jake Tapper’s new book, “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” people in the book commented on the current state of affairs:

Former Sergeant, Blackfoot Troop, 6-4 Cav: “I think it is a shame how selfish our leaders have become starting at the top. I served in the Army for 6 years and from day one ‘integrity’ was drilled into everything we do. As a sergeant, I tried to live the best I could hoping others would do the same. Our men and women are putting their lives on the line everyday and deserve to have leaders who uphold our values.” … A Gold Star mother whose son, a member of Black Knight Troop, 3-61 Cav, was killed in the October 3, 2009 attack on Combat Outpost Keating: “Disgusted, with all the time they put in to these females, when did they have time for the troops. They are the ones the soldiers are to look up too. Lead by example.”

So it's not the guys who can take a weekend in Paris who uphold our honor?